The Arts Center
What has been most instrumental to your progress?
One crucial component of our project's progression was contracting with Northern Lights.mn as artistic coordinator for the project. We engaged them for a period of two years for the fee of $35,000. Initially, our project advisory committee and Board was hesitant to spend that much on a consultant, but it proved to be such an integral part of how professionally the project was executed. Northern Lights.mn, specifically their director Steve Dietz, was a wonderful ambassador to the possibilities of what public art can be. He took the committee and the community through numerous presentations which highlighted public arts projects from around the world over the past 25 years, and created an understanding and an empathy for the capacity of the arts to transform a community. When we executed our calls for artists, Steve's experience in calls for submissions and requests for proposals, as well as leveraging Northern Lights.mn's network, vastly expanded the pool of artists and designers who responded to our search, providing us with a vast array of options. His experience working with artists and bridging the gap between arts and community helped greatly with our public relations.
The Arts Center's Buildings & Grounds Committee, which consists of a local contractor and a local excavator, are a quiet engine that propel the project. When we put out the bid for the initial infrastructure and hardscaping for the park, the responses we received contained quotes that were considerable higher than the engineer's estimates and more than double what was originally budgeted. Our Building's and Grounds Committee took on managing the work, doing a fair bit as in-kind contribution, and then parceling out the bid to local contractors. They stepped up and basically acted as general contractors for the project, finding and wrangling cost savings and keeping our budget much closer to manageable. They also leveraged personal networks and knowledge of the regional trade community to keep the project from stalling and to find contractors to do quality work. Also, because the nature of our arts park project doesn't have any precedent in the Jamestown area community, it was difficult to communicate with the building inspector when it came to permitting issues for the sculpture and pavilion. The Buildings & Grounds Committee, with their local affiliations, bridged a gap.
The Arts Park Task Force is comprised of a cross section of community members who represented the goals of the project; that it be a driver of cultural tourism, that it serve downtown regeneration, that it be a space for arts education, that it be a community gathering space, that it be creative, and that its construction be feasible and maintainable. This group has met frequently over the past two years, generating and vetting ideas, and serving as ambassadors of the park to the general public. This group contains members with differing interests and opinions, but they remained focused on the shared goal, and decisions were made and executed with thoughtful conversation but without the filibustering that sometimes comes from committees.
Key lessons learned
Managing all contractors, but particularly artists, and timelines has been a challenge. For example, our sculptor promised to arrive July 1st and to work on his project through July, with a completion date of August 31. With several promised date changes in between, he arrived in mid-August with the project completed in mid-October. Scheduling educational sessions and community involvement became very frustrating, as they were changed twice before we adopted a "day by day" approach to public sessions. In the future, we might mitigate this by writing more stringent financial penalties and stricter dates into contracts, but I'm not sure this is the answer when the artist's profit margin is already so low and we want to remain an artist friendly organization. Perhaps the answer is to have the timelines in the contract, and then to have and be aware of internal "realistic" timelines as well, and to manage our PR and media releases accordingly; to live in the moment rather than relying on planning ahead. Management of this situation could also have benefited from being more proactive with communication on our part.
In this community, "communicating to the public" cannot rely strictly on standard methods of public communications like radio, newspaper, and social media. We found that, even though we felt we had put a lot of effort and resources into informing the community about our project, we fell short of reaching as many people as we would like to reach. We are working to redefine our communication strategies and to understand that sometimes a five minute talk with a social leader at the senior center can be as effective a way to spread the word about a project as having space on the front page of the newspaper. Developing a method for this has been interesting and can be as simple as asking members of the committee to make sure they talk about the project while getting their hair cut or while golfing. We have not yet found a reliable way to analyze the effects of this kind of strategy, or to reconcile that asking people to do this can feel like an infringement on their personal time. Perhaps as "community innovation" becomes further framed as part of personal and professional mission, these communication practices will be accepted as axiomatic.
The obsession with money can slow progress by inhibiting passion. This was the hardest thing to overcome in managing maintaining enthusiasm for the project. Usually, the first question we would get from any media source was about the project's budget, the total budget and individual portions of it. I was often reminded of Christo and Jean Claude's response to questions about their projects' budgets; they would say that all of their projects cost the same amount which is all that they have and all that they can borrow. With all due respect to the bottom line and the reality of economics, it was (and is) a struggle to remember that our goal is not measurable through dollars spent or generated. We try to mitigate this by talking as much as possible about conceptual goals, creative, rather than commercial possibilities for the space. It was always helpful to attend Bush Foundation convenings to recover the spark of inspiration. You must know this quote? "If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."– Antoine de Saint Exupery
Reflections on the community innovation process
Increasing a collective understanding of the issue was the kernel that drove the work and therefor was most important in completing it. That the site where the project was developed remained a burnt out hole in the ground for 3 years which wasn't addressed by the City or another community group led us to believe that focusing energy, ideas, and resources into downtown was not a priority for the residents of Jamestown. The purchase of the space by The Arts Center, and the initial programming conducted in the space, began community conversations about possibilities for the space which led to greater conversations about downtown rejuvenation and redevelopment. The Arts Park development was then adopted by the Downtown Association as part of their strategic plan, and by the City as part of their Land Use and Transportation Plan. This support led to further community conversations which led to a greater affection for downtown Jamestown and increased interest in investing it downtown.
Progress toward an innovation
We have made progress towards achieving an innovation by creating an environment and space for innovation to occur; and we have achieved innovation in that the Arts Park is, in and of itself, a unique part of Jamestown, particularly the downtown area. Creating the park and the installation of the large scale sculpture has generated significant interest in downtown. We already see people stopping to interact with it, take photos, read the words engraved in the rocks, and spend time in the park. We have begun conversations with two other downtown businesses, Top O The Stairs Dance Studios and the Two Rivers Performing Arts School, about ways that the forthcoming stage/pavilion can be utilized to showcase a variety of existing arts forms and practices. Without having done any formal marketing, community groups such as the garden club have approached The Arts Center about having their meetings in the Arts Park next summer. These things all evidence steps towards achieving innovation in downtown redevelopment and expansion of the creative community.
What it will take to reach an innovation?
We will continue to make steps to achieve greater innovation through development and implementation of park programs. We hope to present to the community how the park can function beyond a traditional park space with interactive theatrical and multi-media projects. Most parks within the City of Jamestown serve the community through providing sports venues and space for car shows. We hope that the Arts Park will build on the predefined conception of what a park can do and how ti can serve a community. It is our hope to partner further with the department of Parks and Recreation so that the Arts Park compliments and expands existing park programming in Jamestown with exhibits and activities that are engaging and creative and push boundaries without becoming over intellectual or inaccessible. The Arts Park will achieve and maintain innovation through an ongoing process of experimentation and evaluation.
As previously mentioned, the next big plans for the Arts Park, beyond the completion of some more capital developments, are to begin to use it for as wide a variety of community activities as we can imagine. The opening launch party for the park is being planned for August of 2017. We anticipate this party as an opportunity for us to showcase, and for the community to experience, everything that the space can be and do. The launch party will feature local and regional performers, as well as new commissioned interactive projects by nationally known performance groups and artists. We anticipate building on relationships with the University of Jamestown and Valley City State University to host outdoor student exhibits and student performance art. Basically, the fun part of the project is about to begin!
If you could do it all over again...
If I could go back to the beginning I would tell myself to be patient and to keep my eye on the ultimate goal. Developing the Arts Park is one of the largest projects that this organization has taken on, and "bumps in the road" which were bound to happen, seemed larger than usual given the proportions of the whole project. Scaling up provided the organization with a learning curve and gave us greater experience with creative problem solving. I would also tell myself to adopt a broader definition of community leadership. Community leaders are not always affiliated with a business, organization, or committee. You never know what people are going to wield the most influence; those who show interest in the project can be your greatest advocates and there is at least as much value in enthusiasm, if not more, than in a "network".
One last thought
I’ve mentioned a few times that this grant was applied for a received by the previous director, and I started my position as Executive Director in December 2014 with no first-hand knowledge of the planning of this project, which I believe accounts for some inconsistencies between the grant application and its administration and project execution.
It has been an honor to work with the Bush Foundation. Thank you.
It has been an honor to work with the Bush Foundation. Thank you.